There are five main types of forklift accident: tipping, speed, vehicle impact, fumes and reckless driving. These can result in injury or death to the driver or any pedestrians that the forklift or its load impacts, plus damage to property. Every year, several people are killed in forklift accidents.
The forklift or the load will tip if the centre of gravity moves outside of the stability triangle. This can be caused by:
- An unbalanced load on the forks (e.g. the operator picks up the load with one fork or without checking where its centre of gravity is)
- A balanced load being disturbed either on the forks or the pallet (e.g. bumping into another object, g-forces while cornering, bumps from weatherstrips or gutters, or a change in angle such as going up a ramp)
- A load shifting internally (e.g. a live load like a chemical tote/IBC where the liquid sloshes around, or a badly packed load which collapses inside a larger container)
- The operator loading a load that’s too heavy for the forklift
- Incorrectly stacking a load which then tips over
- Operator tries to jump out of a tipping forklift rather than bracing and ends up being crushed by the falling forklift
If the forklift has a heavy load, it takes a lot of energy for it to change direction or brake. If the load is elevated and the operator moves the forklift, even slight changes in direction can move the centre of gravity outside the stability triangle. Accidents are caused by:
- Driving around a corner too quickly – forklift skids and hits the stack, or the load falls off
- Not being able to stop in time (e.g. pedestrian steps in front of the forklift, forklift rounds a corner and meets an obstacle)
- Heavy braking causes the load to fall off the forks.
Vehicle impact accidents
Forklifts are heavy and can create a lot of damage. Pedestrians are most at risk. Accident modes include:
- Pedestrians being struck by the forks or the load
- Pedestrians walking into forks which are not lowered to the ground
- The rear of the forklift impacting an object or pedestrian as it swings
- The operator being crushed between the forklift and an object (common with feet and hands not kept inside the forklift’s cage
Using the right forklift for the type of area it’s working in helps prevent fume-related accidents:
- LPG and diesel create carbon monoxide when idling. Operating in enclosed areas can cause symptoms from delayed reaction times through to unconsciousness and death.
Reckless driving accidents
Operators take shortcuts and drive dangerously and this can cause problems:
- Carrying two people on a forklift
- Carrying a person on the forks
- Not securing a personnel cage
- Dropping the forks and a load on a pedestrian
Now you know the five main types of accidents and some scenarios in which they can occur, you can direct your ongoing training and supervision towards eliminating the risks. Workplaces must have well-defined safety procedures to reduce the risk of fatal forklift accidents. Pedestrians should remain outside the exclusion zone (usually around three metres for a small forklift, but 7-10 metres for a large forklift).